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Short-Term Rentals Aren't Worth the Long-Term Harm

Allowing commercial use, or businesses, to operate in residential zones violates the fundamental principle of zoning – a place for everything, and everything in its place.

Short-term rentals of residential properties cause conflicts and problems.

Allowing short-term rentals – a commercial use – in single-family residential neighborhoods undermines the purpose and intent of single-family zoning, causes economic offsets and creates administration and enforcement problems for the city. The latest proposal to allow short-term rentals in San Diego by Councilman Chris Ward and others is fatally flawed and should be rejected.

Voice of San Diego CommentaryAllowing commercial use, or businesses, to operate in residential zones violates the fundamental principle of zoning – a place for everything, and everything in its place. In urban planning, the single-family zone is the sacrosanct core; the most protected place reserved for families and children. In San Diego, there is a vast array of commercial zones, but they have always been separated from single-family neighborhoods as much as possible.

Efforts to fundamentally change zoning laws are usually accompanied by economic rewards and losses. In this case, the dollar rewards are evident, easily quantifiable, sizable and immediate for the landlords. Such rewards come also with the promise of transient occupancy taxes, to which vacation rentals contribute. The hotel tax is an enticement for elected leaders in their continual quest for public funds.

Those short-term gains are already being garnered illegally, due to failure of the mayor and the City Council to enforce existing zoning prohibitions.

Losses for allowing vacation rentals in our neighborhoods come in two categories; quality of life and long-term dollar losses in depreciation, which could run to thousands for individual property owners.

Quality of life suffers when strangers occupy neighborhood homes for a few vacation days at a time. Uneasy questions abound: How will these strangers conduct themselves? Will they maintain and respect the tranquility of our neighborhoods, or are they just here for a good time for a few carefree days?

Their only stake in the neighborhood is a short-term rental fee, and a cleaning deposit payable to the landlord. Loss of quiet enjoyment will be borne by neighbors without compensation.

Long-term losses will be realized in the reduced sale prices of single-family homes in proximity to short-term rentals. If sellers are now required to disclose to buyers even barking dogs and antagonistic neighbors, surely they will have to disclose the existence of commercial rental activity in the neighborhood.

Past efforts to remove illegal short-term commercial uses from San Diego single-family neighborhoods offer a brief view of the enforcement problems that would surely arise if the new proposal is adopted.

A mechanism for shutting down bad actors in the vacation rental market does not currently exist.

What does exist is the city’s Code Enforcement Division and its citation authority, which is slow, reactive and used more as an incentive for compliance rather than punishment or revenue generation. When the worst cases have been referred to the city attorney for further action, costs, of course, are escalated and the process is dragged out even longer.

Making vacation rentals legal does not ensure that the conduct of short-term renters will change, and charging a fee meant to pay for enforcement efforts, like Ward’s plan proposes, will do little to speed up the process or prevent problems from arising in the first place.

Code enforcement staffing cannot keep up with current zoning regulations, let alone a complex set of new requirements. And the idea that our understaffed Police Department has available resources to enforce the new regulations on an emergency basis should be seriously examined.

In either case, if a problem exists with a short-term rental, only extreme cases (e.g., loud, late parties) would be dealt with by the Police Department; other complaints would be dealt with the following week, after those creating the problem are long gone.

Once the single-family zoning regulations are compromised by allowing commercial uses, there would be no turning back. The income achieved by home owners and the hotel tax paid to the city are not worth the destruction vacation rentals would cause.

Quality of life in single-family neighborhoods is a value worth preserving – don’t sell it.

Joe Flynn is a former deputy planning director for the city of San Diego. Flynn’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.

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